Mid-ocean Ridges

Patterns and Processes of the ecosystems of the Northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge

An international exploratory study of the macrofauna of the northern mid-Atlantic Ocean including the processes that control their distribution and community structures in the waters around the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.


Project Leader:
Dr. Odd Aksel Bergstad, Institute of Marine Research, Flodevigen Marine Research Station, His, Norway


  • Deep oceans - what exists there?
  • What roles do mid-ocean ridge systems play in the world's oceans?
  • How can we conduct research in such an extreme environment?
  • How can we ensure sustainable development for the future?


Increasing interest is being focused on regions of the world's oceans that have thus far remained relatively unexplored. Deep ocean features attracting particular attention include seamounts and ridge systems. They are interesting because they may influence ocean circulation patterns. They may thus affect the distribution patterns of marine life forms.


Researchers are posing questions such as: do ridges and seamounts have their own characteristic faunas, or is this fauna related to adjacent coastal fauna, which has migrated into deeper waters using the seamounts and ridges as "stepping stones"? Do ridges and seamounts significantly influence processes such as intercontinental migration and dispersion?


There is a need for more information about these areas and the life-forms living there, not the least because there are strong economic forces that are driving commercial interests to find new resources to exploit. Before extensive fishing gets underway, with its inherent potential for irreparable damage to the ecosystem, researchers need to learn more. Better knowledge is critical for the sustainable management of the ridge and deep ocean resources.


The MAR-ECO Project is part of a ten-year global programme to explore the world's oceans entitled, the Census of Marine Life. MAR-ECO aims to describe and understand the patterns of distribution, abundance and the trophic relationships among the organisms inhabiting the waters over and around the mid-Atlantic Ridge. It also aims to identify and model the ecological processes that cause variability in these patterns. The project will chiefly focus on fish, crustaceans, cephalopods, and gelatinous plankton and other actively swimming organisms, but there will also be some focus on top predators such as seabirds and cetaceans, which interact with the more surface environment.


The project also aims to share the results of the research exploration with the general public and has begun public outreach initiatives including a web site, school project, ship-to-shore communication, documentary film, video shorts, exhibition ideas and a book project. A well-known Norwegian artist has expressed interest in participating in the project, which gives it a unique interdisciplinary art/science dimension.


MAR-ECO faces severe technological challenges. Data collection and observation at great depths and in rugged terrain are difficult. The project will adapt and modify modern remote sensing technology (acoustics, optics) that will be carried on advanced instrument systems (e.g., towed vehicles, ROVs, AUVs etc.). Many different international technology companies are working in collaboration with researchers to develop and test state-of-the-art equipment that will rise to these challenges. This new technology will also be able to be used in a number of other applications.

The study area includes the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the adjacent waters from the Azores to Iceland. Research expeditions will survey much of the area using acoustic studies and mid-water trawling. Three sub- areas have been selected for more intensive sampling and observation by traditional and novel methods and technologies.


The project's field season extends from 2003-2005 and involves a number of research cruises including Iceland (June 2003), the Russian MIR submersibles (summer 2003), the new Norwegian research vessel, G.O. Sars (summer 2004), a Portuguese Navy vessel (date to be announced) and possibly UK, German and Irish research cruises.

The period 2004-2008 will be an analytical phase. Data will also be submitted to the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), which is the information component of the Census of Marine Life.


The information learned concerning exploited resources and biodiversity will be of immediate value to global advisory authorities such as ICES, OSPAR and others, and is critical to ensuring sustainable development of the oceanic environment in the future.


Visit the MAR-ECO website.
Document Actions